Overflowing a.k.a Maximum Capacity

So, I have noticed some changes in myself as of late, of which I am not proud.  I have dropped a couple balls for which I can’t apologize enough.  Brain fog.  Sarcasm (my old friend/nemesis/crutch) has re-entered my thought pattern, my texting, my language.  Anger lingers.  An underlying sense of “rawness.”  A lack of empathy for perceived “weakness” – but only in certain people…that I won’t get into here, but I fully understand it and have quickly processed.

There may not seem like there is a connection here, but bare with me. Today I found myself watching a press conference a few moments ago that started a flood of tears.  The Metro Homicide Unit had an update on the murder of a two year old that was killed in our community last week. If you are interested you can watch it here: MHU Press Conference

WHY has this triggered all of this? I can probably give you all KINDS of information about the psychology and emotion behind what I am experiencing.  Things that I have LEARNED.

But…I need a minute,

AND I don’t want to take one, not even that ONE MINUTE.

Because I am just too busy to process something that is just for ME.  Yes, this post actually is about me.

Lets start with a bit of background for those of you who don’t know me.  I am blessed with two wonderful vocations.   Working at both a church and a funeral home providing care for other people is perfect for me…except that, it means that I “know” too much.  I know how to help other people process through relational issues, pain, grief… and in that knowing, I am realizing (well  I began to ignore realize it some time ago I think, but now I am publicly acknowledging) that it is stunting or hindering my own process and causing me to rely on less than helpful coping skills exhibit uncharacteristic behaviors.

Having my work and my personal life collide too often is probably not really helpful for me when you consider what those vocations are.

In the past year and four months I have been surrounded with a great deal of loss, or trauma/crisis…not always my own but no more than one degree away from it.  I am an empathetic person and sometimes, empathy hurts.

So, let me paint a picture for you.  Aside from the people that I am honored to assist in my roles at the church and funeral home each day, here is the portrait of pain around me: (Most of it loss of life, but not all of it.)

Let us journey back to January of 2013:

January 2013, I learn that my cousin’s six month old daughter has passed away unexpectedly.  The funeral home I am affiliated with coordinated the service.

January 2013 – that baby’s grandmother (my father’s sister, my aunt) passes away after a long illness. The funeral home I am affiliated with coordinated the service.

March 2013  I don’t know how to say this without sounding like I am complaining but Sept – Nov 2012 and then March – June of 2013 I was exhausted from concern…visiting my father, roughly, every other day in a facility or hospital was my 3rd job…but March was the beginning of the end. After years, nay… decades of illness, this marked the final hospitalization of my father who after long treatment and surgery…

June 2013, my father died.  My church and the funeral home I am affiliated with coordinated the service.

Then there appears to have been a lull…but I don’t remember it.

December 2013 Our lead pastor shares the pain he is feeling, with our staff, over the loss of his nephew who completed suicide.  It is always difficult to watch our pastor during moments like this, but I think this meeting may have been the first time I FELT something after my father died.  I remember my heart hurting for our lead pastor and letting many tears flow…but it wasn’t MY loss.

December 2013, I receive a call from my grieving mother to tell me that HER mother had died.  This is still being processed by my mother on top of my father’s loss and there has been no funeral or memorial service.

December 2013, days before Christmas, I receive an early morning call from a dear friend who had been caring for her terminally ill mother. She shared that her mother had just died.  I was honored to spend that day with and walk with the family through the funeral process.  She was born on the summer solstice and died on the winter solstice.  For some reason that sticks in my brain.  The funeral home I am affiliated with coordinated the service.

That was my first day of vacation at the time and then I attended the funeral later that week feeling unwell, which turned into pneumonia and

December 31/Jan 1 At 10:30 pm I receive a disturbing text message from the husband of a dear friend followed (finally) two hours later by a phone call from that dear friend who just experienced a horrible revelation from said husband and I am still walking beside her through this.

Did I mention I had pneumonia during this?

Not to mention, the winter of 2013/2014 that seemed to never end, the winter where I learned the term “Polar Vortex” and our great city “shuts down” at least twice.

February 2014 turned out to be an EXCEPTIONALLY busy time at the church…at least for me.  (I know that this is not a relational issue/crisis/loss but I am painting a picture here and consider this just a small element in the background of a larger landscape)

March 2014 I was honored to walk alongside a family in our church as they laid to rest their 10 month old daughter who died unexpectedly.  Our church and the funeral home I am affiliated with coordinated the service.  This service was especially hard for me, and others on our church and funeral home staffs…but again, it was not MY loss.

March 2014 Our church staff lost a great friend whose wife is a also a great friend and fellow staff member, way too soon… He was vibrant and healthy and wonderful and then…he was gone.

April 2014 I learn of a shooting of a two year old (see above press conference) and quickly realize that it is my cousin’s grandson.

April 2014 I learn of a another shooting and soon learn that the young man, 18 years old, riding his bike home from work, was a classmate of my daughter, they were acquainted I guess, not close at all,  but she has been talking about it and it has affected her entire school. The funeral home I am affiliated with is coordinating the service, and I am aware of his presence there and having a child that same age, at the same school…my heart hurts. In a perfect world, I can actually see this in my mind, in two months, he should be walking across the stage of their school receiving his diploma – alphabetically a little before my daughter…my heart hurts and it is again…not MY loss

I am pretty certain that there are many other things that should be included in this list, honestly I find that lull up there between June to December hard to believe but I don’t want to go back through my calendar seeking out pain.

So, I share all of that because I just need to.  Sometimes, proximity to pain CAN affect us.  I need to admit that.  I need to practice what I preach, so to speak.  I am acknowledging that I have reached capacity and I need to, as my good friend Laura just sang to me, “Let it Go!”

I am still going to continue to walk alongside of others in their pain and in their grief but I need to make space inside of myself before I can help others carry their burden.  Now…I am making a phone call because I need someone who doesn’t know me, to help me process my own…stuff.

 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone,without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Galatians 6:1-6

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I Remember the Light

lamp postSeveral years ago, I worked at an answering service. I was just shy of twenty years old and was working to support myself and my then five month old daughter.   Those who knew me then, can testify to the fact that I was pretty far from following Christ at that time, but apparently He loved me enough even then to be present in my pain.  I can only see that now…way on the other side of it but I am grateful to be able to see Him in hindsight.

I enjoyed my job at the answering service and learned quite a bit about customer service.  The answering service was located inside an old house in an equally old neighborhood in the downtown South Bend area.  Parking was in the back and there was an alley that was shared with the businesses on the main street behind us.   I was answering phones for a few hundred companies, in several different service industries such as heating and cooling, garage doors, electricians, plumbers as well as several doctor’s offices and large multi-doctor clinics as well as monitoring for three alarm companies and answering the hotline for a local mental health care organization including their sexual offense victims hotline known as “SOS”.

This job gave me the opportunity to speak to many people in every walk of life:

I spoke to service technicians that were on call every night and the customers who needed them to fix their broken furnace, toilet, or garage door.  Yep, that was me.

I spoke to people who were sick and needed their doctor as well as to panicked parents whose children were somewhere on the spectrum between having the sniffles and dying and I was the one who knew how to reach their doctor.  Yep, that was me.

I spoke to doctors every night.  I had the pleasure of interrupting their dates with their wives, or waking them from a dead sleep, or interrupting them when they were cooking dinner for their family.  Yep, that was me.

I spoke to dispatch for the police and fire departments regularly to alert them of alarms that had been tripped.  Yep, that was me.

I also received calls from the hospitals requesting an advocate for the just admitted victims of rape, molestation, or domestic abuse.  Yep, that was me.

I also received calls from the survivors of those attacks seeking an advocate to talk to because at that moment darkness was descending again and they just needed to hear the voice of someone that cared enough and knew what they were experiencing.  Yep, that was me.

Then one night… I was raped.  I was the person the hospital was calling about.  Yep, that was me.

It was the first warm day that year.  Early April, 1991. Surprisingly, thankfully, I can no longer remember the date.  I dressed appropriately in my favorite denim skirt that zipped from bottom to top in the front, topped with one of my Dad’s gray t-shirts, and finished with my cute white leather sneakers.  It was midnight and still warm outside.  I hopped in my car, the first car I had ever bought on my own, a 1981 Oldsmobile Cutlass and it was almost the same gold color of my hair.  I loved that car, even if the carburetor did have issues and caused me to stall out quite often.   I had thrown my purse into the passenger seat and started the engine, rolled down the window and looked in the rearview mirror and noticed a man and a dog walking through the alley about 25 yards behind me.   I turned on the radio and put the car in reverse and the car stalled; I put it park, started it up, gunned the engine a couple times and put it in reverse again and when I looked behind me I noticed the man and dog again and then the car died again.  I put the car in park, started it up, put it in reverse and turned to look out the back window and the car died again.  This time though, when I turned back around to shift back to park there was man at my door and I could hear a dog barking.  I don’t recall what he said but when I went to start the car again he reached his arm in and took the keys out of the ignition.  He yanked open my door and I knew he had no good intentions and so I kicked and fought causing my elbow to hit the horn a few times until he pulled out a knife and said “You’re askin’ to be stabbed.”  I wasn’t, but I got the message.  He shoved me over far enough to get in and close the door.  The dog was still outside but at the passenger side door, and he was scratching at it and I was worried about my paint job!

The car had rolled halfway back to the alley by then but the horn must have alerted the girl who took over for me during the midnight to eight shift and she came to the door.   My headlights were on and you could tell she could not see into the car clearly. She yelled out to see if I was ok and The Man told me to get rid of her.  I remember being worried for her so I yelled something (I don’t recall what) and after a few seconds she went back inside.  (Later she told me that the dog made her think that I was attempting to help a stray…she knew me pretty well)

I remember asking The Man if I could let the dog in the car…he declined.  I remember him starting the car with both the keys and the knife in one hand and then being REALLY MAD that the car did not stall when he put the car in gear.  He had the knife at my throat and drove…aimlessly.  He made me hike up my skirt and remove my underwear.  This is how we drove for about twenty minutes, me half naked with a knife at my throat.  I remember people pulling up next to us on my side at traffic lights and wondering what they could see.  We ended up in the same alley but about a block away.  That is where he raped me…the first time.  We drove and stopped at another location and it continued for about four hours.  The knife was always moving.  Either in his hand or stuck above my head into the door or stuck in the headrest of the seat on the passenger side… always where I could see it and he could reach it.  I looked at him long enough to remember his face, his clothing, and did what I could to gather skin samples under my nails without being obvious… yes, I watched too much TV.  Once I had what was needed I just “left” and hung out with “The Light.” There were times when he needed responses to what he would say (he was really delusional and believed this was a consensual encounter and I tried my best to play along) but other than that I focused on The Light.  Every time he stopped the car and started at me again, regardless of where I was I could see a streetlight above me  and I “left” – I hung out with The Light and it comforted me and kept me calm and somehow I knew that I would be ok.  Being able to remain calm helped to remind me that I had a daughter – which turned out to be very helpful because early on, when he started at me I came REALLY close to “asking him” to kill me but somehow when I looked at The Light I remembered that my daughter needed her mother.  After he was done with me, he drove a block from the answering service, parked the car, gave me a hug and got out.  I moved behind the steering wheel, stunned, and watched him walk to the back of my car and then walk across the street directly behind my car and then I put the car in drive and took off.  In hindsight, I often think I should have thrown the car in reverse and gunned it at that moment but…you know what they say about hindsight. I drove PAST the police station to get home.  It was around 4:30 am and I woke up my parents and told them to call the police.  They arrived and did many things but got me to the hospital and when the nurse mentioned calling “SOS” I panicked.  I told them that when they called, to warn the girl who answered the phone, to give her my name (usually they only state the age and gender of the victim) and to tell her to be careful and many other things.  When the “SOS” advocates arrived, I was grateful they were there – but not for me, I wanted them to be with my parents.  My parents were a mess.  Quite frankly, I was good.  I WAS FREAKING ALIVE!  My parents were devastated, but I WAS ALIVE!  I was good.  “Tell me what you need me to do to catch this guy”  was all I was thinking about about…and a shower, a blistering hot shower.  Turns out the evidence we needed to identify him conclusively was present and all we had to do was find him…which turned out to be pretty easy for the cops.  The hard part was the two years it took to get him convicted and I will save you all those details and drama.  He was sentenced to two twenty year sentences.  He ended up only serving about nine years.  He is out, I know where he lives.  He does not know it, but I have forgiven him.

The only real lingering affect is I am extra cautious about being outside, alone in the dark…  like starting my car in the morning during the winter or walking to my car alone in a parking lot at night.  I am cautious and alert…but not afraid.

Some might think that, somewhere in my head there should be a 4 hour long nightmare of a memory of that night, but there isn’t.  I remember a lot about the moments leading to it and all of the moments after it.  When I think back to that night I recall about 25% of the assault and beyond that I remember The Light.  God has graced me with that.  I remember The Light.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Yep, that’s me.

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Receiving a hug through a bag of trash

As followers of Christ we are to offer forgiveness regardless of there being an apology expressed for an offense.

Unfortunately, some “offenders” look at this and dismiss the idea of offering an apology and assume forgiveness has been given and that the relationship has been restored to its previous state.  This is unfortunate because if you ask anyone who has been wronged, it is challenging to offer affection and return the relationship to normal without that apology.

Quite like receiving a hug through a bag of trash. 

You want the connection, but there is this mess between you that you should probably clean up.  The question I hear often is along the lines of “who is responsible for” cleaning up the trash?

My original thought was “the offender of course” and typically, if they know they have made the offense I would say that is true; but then when I look at things a bit longer I realize that it may very well be that sometimes the “victim” may have some responsibility to clean up the mess.  It boils down to this:  the responsibility to restore the relationship falls on the person who WANTS to restore the relationship and to create the space where this can happen.  Sometimes, our offenders do not realize they have dumped their trash in our lap and they then feel offended when the relationship appears to have changed “for no reason.”

It is all a matter of boundaries.   (I recommend the book if you don’t understand what that means)

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”   – Matthew 18:15

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Thyme of Grace

Just had lunch with my lovely daughter Breanna and we are on a mission to check out a different place each week.  This week we chose Thyme of Grace on Mishawaka Avenue in South Bend.

I have been longing to try this place but they are only open during the lunch hours on Monday through Friday.  If you are in the mood for an “unusual, eclectic dining experience” this is beyond worthwhile.

The menu was unique and we were greeted at the door by the chef, Michelle Lankford who then explained the day’s specials.  Breanna and I both latched onto the idea of a roasted red pepper soup (she went with a bowl, I opted for the cup) and then she went salad and I went sandwich; grilled cheese that is.  (The use of the semicolon in thie previous sentence is dedicated to my friend Lori Lohmeyer.  SAVE THE SEMICOLON!)

My cup of soup:

My “prince albert” sandwich:

Breanna’s salad (I forget which one):

She was SOOO excited when she found this little guy hiding among the beautiful garden she was about to enjoy:

We truly enjoyed this little place.  The decor is cute eclectic.  A place to hang out with your girlfriends for certain!  The food was DELISH! The price was nice.  Especially when they lived up to the GRACE in their name.  When Nichole brought our check, upon seeing my debit card she explained that they take cash, check and dishwashers.  I had no cash, nor a check, or time to wash a dish.  To which she responded that it was not a problem, to take the check and tear off the bottom portion, write down my contact information and mail it in to them.  OH. MY. WORD!  Who does that anymore?!?!   It was amazing.  Ladies – expect a big tip when you receive my check!

Oh, and if you want to check out Thyme of Grace…they are catering the Garden Party at the Potawatomi Conservatories on Friday, May 18th 6 – 9 pm.  This is a free event, make some “Thyme” to be there!

(Yes, I really did just do that. Yes, I know I am hokey)

Friends, this place receives two thumbs WAY up from Breanna and I.

Awesome food, great experience.

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A prayer for the saints

Saints: Those dedicated to God and set apart for his service. All who believe in Jesus, regardless of their character or spiritual maturity.

Ephesians 1:15-23

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And god placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

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Ecclesiates 5:1-7

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.  Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,

do not be hasty in your heart

to utter anything before God.

God is in heaven

and you are on earth,

so let your words be few.

As a dream comes when there are many cares,

so the speech of a fool when there are many words.

When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “my vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.

Therefore stand in the awe of God.

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Struggling with the struggling

I know this post is probably opening a can of worms.  I may even make some people angry,  I may even upset a friend or two or twenty, or cause people to comment and fling insults at me about my lack of knowledge on how government systems work.   Darn straight! They would be right!  I don’t know it all.  I don’t know enough.  I witness much and it makes me sad.  Be gentle, I am just venting.

A good friend was telling me the other day that statistics show that a minimum wage earning family has more “expendable income” than your average middle class family of 4 earning $60,000 a year.

Here are a couple links to stories discussing this:

http://www.zerohedge.com/article/entitlement-america-head-household-making-minimum-wage-has-more-disposable-income-family-mak

http://www.cynicaltimes.org/articles/failing-middle-class-nears-poverty-line

Years ago, I would have been surprised by that but now now. Being a member of the middle class, and having had to help others seek public assistance…I was not.  I regularly speak to “middle class” families who live paycheck to paycheck that have had some situation (illness, injury, divorce, unforeseen repair, utility increase, inflation, etc…) that has thrown a wrench in their budget and because they “make too much money” there are no government agencies that can/will help them.

I could give a whole list of the things that our family personally does not have or do because we try to stick to a strict budget…but really that is none of anyone’s business.

I will say this though, there are opportunities given to and luxuries enjoyed by people that “qualify” for government assistance and scholarships based on their income that can sometimes frustrate me. Especially when there is a sense of entitlement that accompanies the receiving of these gifts.  Is this some sort of jealousy?  Maybe.  We work very hard for what we have and we have a good chunk of change coming out of our paychecks that go toward taxes.  Guess what pays for those government programs?

When I think hard about it, I guess what frustrates me is that we have these great programs and some people who qualify for them use them as a permanent solution rather than a temporary means to an end and then teach that same mentality to their children. There is no foreseeable consequence for it.  No reason to change the trajectory.  Just continue teaching their children which systems and programs to rely on rather than instilling a good work ethic.

Generational poverty.

The latest headlines regarding banning junk food from being paid for with food stamps, drug testing people who receive welfare, and illegal immigrants receiving government assistance have caught my attention.

I struggle with the fact that I struggle with it.  I feel that it is being judgmental and I don’t want to be judgmental!  I want a solution!(Don’t we all?)

I have occasionally thought that maybe, just maybe there could be a tiered assistance program.  One for those who need the assistance long term to survive with a strict structure to pull them up above the line.  I mean, for instance if there were standards stating that if you receive this type of assistance which includes higher education for your children then there is the expectation that the generation of children whose parents benefited will not be allowed to receive those benefits as adults from the same program.  I know, “But Dawn, how will they survive as adults if they choose NOT to participate in the education provided – well, how about WITH THEIR PARENTS – the ones who instilled in them how to survive in the world.  I have the history from both of my parents who were each 1 of 11 children who tell tales of very small homes and sharing beds and floor space and hunger that to this day is a deep seeded fear that causes my mom to feel she needs to go shopping if she has ANY shelf space in her cupboards.  Let me tell you, that taught them to WORK, and not have more children they could not afford.

There should be a middle class tier/fund for those who need occasional assistance who live beyond the parameters of the “poverty line” or live below it but somehow find a way to not receive government assistance (Because I know there are families out there doing that!) – a system of support for keeping the middle class alive.   With structure as well, maybe a max limit per year or maybe limiting how often the fund can be accessed (once or twice a year but not exceeding X dollars and by the way, what luxury are you still living with?).  I know, I know – how will it be funded and staffed and monitored?  I have not thought that far but if you are limiting assistance to a specific generation odds are that might free up some funds right?

I may very well be wrong.  Seriously.   I am kind of nervous about posting this – but I am going to anyway.

I don’t HAVE the answers.  I have a lot of questions.  I have a great deal of frustration, but not with the people receiving the assistance.  There but for the Grace of God go I. It is with the system by which it is given.

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